I was watching the television show House of Cards. For those that are unaware, it is a show only seen on Netflix starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. The show is about Frank Underwood and the shenanigans, manouvering, lies, and half truths in order to gain and maintain political office. I am certainly not nieve enough to think that this show is rooted in truth, but in all satire, there is some grain of truth. There is no question that in order to achieve office there is some sort of back of the room dealing, men and women in smokey rooms making deals, and screwing someone in the process. That process has been going on for centuries. I guess what struck me as I watched (am watching) this show is that I kept asking myself the same question over and over…why? Why don’t these people simply come clean and tell the truth? Why, in order to win an election are they more concerned with digging up dirt on the other person rather than stating their position? It seems to me that elected office should be more about what a person stands for rather than what the other guy did that was questionable. Yes, I know…I sound like a pollyanna, but so what! The problem with politics in this nation, or any other for that matter, is that we are electing officials based on the dirt that they dig up on the other guy rather than on what the prospective representative stands for. The result? We are getting people in office that got there on false pretense, highlighting what the other guy did wrong as opposed to truly analyzing the positions that the elected stands for. This insidious method of gaining political office not only makes fools of the general public, but devalues the office of which they seek. This is certainly nothing new on the political landscape. One of the most controversial and “dirty” elections in memory was the election of 1800 which pitted Thomas Jefferson and John Adams against each other. The dirt, muck, namecalling and vitriol that spewed forth made two men who had been friends, almost mortal enemies until their deaths. They reconciled somewhat just prior to their passing, but to be sure, their relationship was never quite the same.
The problem is the an election should be about the message, not about the personalities that are running for the particular office. The population should be able to hear what each candidate stands for and be able to make a decision based on that alone, but too often it is the gossip, the inuendo, the nitpicking that gets all of the attention rather than the message that is being delivered. As a result, the elected office becomes more of a high school gossipfest with the winner being able to convince the electorate that they are “cooler” than the other person. The messages delivered are sanitised, able to appeal to everyone as those messags are so generic that it would be hard to find fault let alone a specific position to define a political candidate. This does nothing but confuse the voter, or force the voter to go to alternative sources to find information, sources that are more than biased toward one candidate or another, skewing the message and therefore skewing the potential voter. This is the fundamental problem with a republic. The voter must become smarter than the person running for office, able to see throught the smoke and mirrors presented to him or her in order to find the message. The result? Voters simply stop seeking the message and accept what is being told to them by the biased source that they’ve decided to listen to, in whatever forum or medium that they’ve chosen. This leads to an electorate that has chosen sides irrefutably, an electorate that will not listen to the “other side”, and one in which results in an electorate that is so divided that it may never reconcile, such as I believe that we are seeing in our current electorate. The fact is that the vast majority of any electorate is not educated on the issues, as there are too many issues to be educated on, so the electorate listens and is spoonfed what the canidate wishes for them to hear. Since the electorate doesn’t know or understand the issues, they simply listen and agree with the side of the political fence that they’ve chosen. They actually become militant about it in defense of “their side” as they’ve been inundated with only one side that they understand and feel comfortable with. That last sentence is the most telling, and to my mind, the most dangerous. When confronted with an opposing view, one that may be diametrically opposed to what a person has been imbued with, the response by the average person is to simply reject out of hand that message. Why? Because the messge makes them feel uncomfortable, and people don’t like being uncomfortable. Therefore, the thought or message is simply rejected out of hand, with no thought to really understanding or comprehending what the message entails.
If you’ve bothered to read this far, I’m going to assume that you’ve become confused. Good. That is precisely the point of this short article. When confused, it’s much easier to listen to name calling, nitpicking, and the black and white of what makes one feel comfortable. This is how the electorate is manipulated. As once stated in the film The American President (a completely biased, politically left film – but a good film nonetheless), “Democracy is advanced citizenship”. That it is, and unfortunately one in which the American populace either fails to participate in regularly (see “off-year” election pecentages) or simply votes the party line without even listening to the other side, whichever side that may be. This is the downfall of any republic and may well be the eventual downfall of ours.
Historian Dr. Hannah Barker calls it “generational chauvinism”. Essentially, it is the notion that what we see as a moral